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Many people outside of the entertainment world might just believe that being and entertainer is a glamorous life. It is but it isn’t. With that being said, let me introduce myself. My real name is Royce Nesby. Yet everyone calls me Dancer! I been dancing longer than I been walking. My mother would tell anyone who would listen that I even danced out of her womb. Maybe she drank one too many Margarita’s the late morning I was born. My father is a classic pianist, while my mother dabbled in the arts. I was destined to be a star in which never quite materialized as everyone believed. Oh, I did quite well for myself.

You see, I’m a back up dancer. For those of you who may not know what exactly a back up dancer is I’ll try an explain. A backup dancer also known as background dancer is a performer who dances with or behind the lead performers in a live musical act or in a music video. Their movements provide a visual symmetry and rhythm to accompany the music. Dancers like myself must regularly attend rehearsals, costume fittings, tapings and concert dates as part of my job. While it's not necessary to have a college degree in dance, but it doesn’t hurt. I attended New York University Tisch School of the Arts by acquiring a full four year scholarship. The synchronized steps, glamorous costumes and proximity to stars make a career as a backup dancer seem like a dream come true for many. While the finished product may seem polished and desirable, however, the long hours and physical strain make dancing one of the most demanding careers today. Depending on the type of job, its length and other factors such as skill and experience, a dancer salary can vary from modest to lucrative. Mines was lucrative.

Dancers are typically paid by the gig and pay-per-gig can reach over $1,000. Outside of money, compensation also comes in the form of lodging, exposure and/or costumes. It’s important to remember, however, that pay can be contingent upon other factors including ticket sales. Because of the gig-to-gig nature of dancer income, dancers also find other ways to bring in money between performances; this can be through teaching, food service or arts administration, among other day jobs.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the hourly wage of a dancer at $17.15 per hour as of 2017. The dancer salary in companies and on Broadway is about $1,861 a week. Depending on the gig, your dance job may also come with benefits including health insurance, dancewear (shoes, sweatpants, etc.) and access to massage or physical therapists.

This truth I share with you today is what most people believe a back up dancer truly, is behind their backs: A person who isn't important. A person who hides in the shadow of the star or someone else. A copy cat fake moon walker. Yo, Sis did you hear about that back up dancer Royce we went to dance school with? Na, what's up with him? He's just a back up dancer!

Okay, enough with the shop talk. Let me give you the real low down and dirties about back up dancing.

For 12 years straight I never had a vacation or basically a day off. My first video was with an entertainer known as Vanilla Ice. Myself and another dancer danced along with Vanilla Ice to Ice-Ice Baby. Much of the video was filmed inside a rat infested dingy warehouse. I remember because one of the stagehands got bit by a rat the size of a small armadillo. I was paid a measly $300. I must have did something right because my mother who had volunteered to be my manager got a call from Madonna.

When I went to audition for her Blonde Ambition World Tour I was immediately told never to speak personally with the star. I stayed with her for four years. To me it was a gig I really made good money. I got along with a few of the dancers. I never liked the ones who tried to upstage her or suck up to her. Her name truly fit her. Because it seemed that we dancers were always competing for her attention in this concentrated amount of time, we weren’t tight at all. I think a lot of that is positioning, for her and it kind of put us in relation to her in a certain way that I guess she felt it benefitted her. But I didn’t feel like we were a family. It was a job and it was really cool and we were sharing our art; that’s what my relationship with her always felt like.

It was different, totally different when I started back up dancing for the King of Pop Michael Jackson. I’m not here to throw no shade on that wonderful entertainer. He out danced and out worked all of his back up dancers. He was the constant pro and a real perfectionist. I can say that for the 3 years I danced along side him I learned more about dancing than I did in College. I was truly sadden by his untimely demise like many of his fans. But like in show business the show must go on and I danced along the sides of Luther Vandross, Patti Labelle, Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige to name a few.

It wasn’t until I sprained my ankle that I realized that I had never spent a holiday with friends nor family or even by myself. Those holiday occasions were for the fans and when I made the most money.

All I really wanted to do for the first time in my dancing life was to do what normal people do during the holidays.

You know like read a novel, fly a kite, let off a few fireworks, get drunk and have my ex girl friend call the police on me, walking a neighbor’s dog to pick up chicks, eat until I have to unbutton my pants, wait up all night to actually see how Santa Claus comes down the chimney in my condo, go to a nice restaurant at around 7pm, go to church, truly honor our soldiers who fought to protect us, to know what labor day is and celebrate a birthday.

Like I said earlier having a back up dancing career isn’t that bad unless you consider all the enjoyment you miss during the holidays.

December 19, 2020 16:55

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1 comment

Frances Reine
16:15 Dec 29, 2020

This was the first thing I read this morning... I loved it!


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